Brooks Betts, guitarist and one of the founding members of the pop-punk band Mayday Parade, remembers struggling to convince audience members to buy CDs during the first Warped Tour. The group has come a long way since then, even headlining the last iteration of the traveling festival this year.
Mayday Parade also dropped its sixth album, Sunnyland, in June 2018. The project draws on pop-punk nostalgia and is infused with new influences and stories from the band.
Westword: How was creating Sunnyland different than making previous albums?
Brooks Betts: Well, every album is an evolution. Every album is different, but this one is a good blend of everything that we have done over our history. It has stuff that could have been on Black Lines; it has stuff that could have been on A Lesson in Romantics. It spans a large area, and a lot of people are saying it’s one of their favorites, so it’s exciting.
In 2017, you released the anniversary edition of A Lesson in Romantics. How has your songwriting and style evolved since that album?
Personally, I definitely listen to a lot more wide variety of music. I go back to older ’90s and not as much pop punk, so you get more influence of that in there. And I think that is true of all of us, but that style always sticks with us. But as you get older, your music taste expands, so what we produce expands as well.
Do you have a favorite song to play live?
I don’t think anybody has a favorite all around; it is usually very different per person. Mine changes all the time. Particularly, "Satellite" is a really fun one to play on this tour.
One of my favorite songs on the album was “Take My Breath Away.” Could you tell us the story behind that?
That’s one I wrote, and Jeremy [Lenzo] and Alex [Garcia] helped me out with that one. At some point in time, when I was messing with it, it felt like a Fleetwood Mac thing, but it was like, you might want to tone that down a little bit and get more poppy with it. I was having trouble — I had all the riffs, and most parts were written, but I didn’t have the chorus. I was like, "Jeremy just start humming some stuff — throw me something," and it was great.
We put lyrics to it. I couldn’t finish the end, and Alex said, "Why don’t you just say take my breath away"? It was perfect. The song came together in just a couple of days while we were in the studio. I love how that chorus line plays together with, "Hold me down in the river. Take my breath away,” where "take my breath away" usually seems like a good thing, or in reference to something positive, but this is the inverse of that.
Your songwriting is often poetic. Do you write primarily out of personal experiences, or is it more just storytelling?
That one is more of a story, but it's based on some relationships I’ve been in, you know what I mean? It’s kind of loose, because when you're trying to be poetic with it or really make the words work together, you can’t be super-literal. It’s usually a combination of both.
How do you guys collaborate creatively to reach decisions about what songs make it to the album?
We all have our little studios at home, and we write music individually, for the most part, minus the little things I was talking about with “Take My Breath Away." We bring these demos in and get together months before we put a record out, and we start working as a band on our best ideas.
For this record, we went back and continued to work on more songs after we did that first time. We whittled it down for an entire record of what songs we wanted to put on there. Songs are put on the chopping block; we are picking the best of the best.
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Did you have a certain vision for Sunnyland?
I think you just write. We knew we shouldn’t go as far as doing another Black Lines, where we stay super-minor and heavy or darker with stuff. We just wanted to have a more balanced feel. I think that was the only thought at the back of our minds.
But at the same time, we are still writing music and not so much trying to push for something; if anything, we were just making sure we were avoiding doing too much of something. The thing is, when you have five guys writing music together, you have such a large array of styles to pick from, and you don’t have to stay dark with it.